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What is a contract administrator?

Contract administration is one of the more common careers for a legal professional to have, but it's one of the lesser-known ones as well. Students considering careers in law might not know to look to it as a great opportunity, but in fact, contract administrators and managers are found in all sorts of public and private companies.

We asked three experts in the field about their thoughts on the profession, including great industries for a contract administrator and which skills are the most important for success. Their responses can help aspiring professionals learn more about what might be a terrific opportunity for a fascinating career.

What is a contract administrator?

Robert CochranRobert Cochran, Lecturer for the School of Accountancy at the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business at Auburn University

A contract administrator is someone who monitors and oversees the compliance with contract terms while the contract is being performed. Contract administrators also coordinate all the details of "wrapping up" or completing all the necessary details at contract's end.

Penny Vermie, Senior Contracting Officer, Defense Contract Management Agency and Instructor for University of Washington Professional & Continuing Education

A contract administrator makes sure the buyer gets what they want, and the seller is appropriately compensated. They solve the problems that will most likely occur from the identification of the need all the way through full payment.

Mark Mitchell, Instructor for Contract Management Certificate Program at California State University, Sacramento

A contract administrator is the person who oversees that the contract terms and conditions are met by the vendor under contract. In cases of non-performance or disputes the contract administrator (CA) is the one responsible to seek a solution with the vendor or find some sort of resolution to resolve the problem. The CA is the person within the company that monitors vendor performance, in many cases approves payments and often is involved when contracts are put out to bid or renewal.


In what industries or environments do you usually see contract administrators used the most?

Robert Cochran, Lecturer for the School of Accountancy at the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business at Auburn University

Virtually every industry has contracts which use contract administrators. Whether a contract has an administrator usually depends on one of two primary factors: (1) the value, size and complexity of the contract, or (2) whether a law requires a contract administrator. Most government contracts require a contract administrator.

Penny VermiePenny Vermie, Senior Contracting Officer, Defense Contract Management Agency and Instructor for University of Washington Professional & Continuing Education

Contract administrators have the biggest roles in large aerospace companies that contract with airlines, the US government, or foreign governments. The rules and laws are generally complex and thus require dedicated contract administrators.

Mark Mitchell, Instructor for Contract Management Certificate Program at California State University, Sacramento

Every company has someone in the CA role….however, in small companies it could be the owner or another manager who has that responsibility. Often in larger companies there could be full time CAs. Government and larger companies generally have full time CA's as there are numerous very complex and costly projects to administer.


What types of skills, education or expertise are most important for a successful career in contract administration?

Robert Cochran, Lecturer for the School of Accountancy at the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business at Auburn University

A successful contract administrator must obviously start with knowledge of contract law, although a trained attorney is seldom needed for the position. Familiarity with the type of work to be completed is also a requirement. Contract administrators generally need some skill in conflict resolution, and they certainly need to be able to see problems from all viewpoints. Hopefully a contract administrator has extensive experience in contract administration obtained through on the job training assisting in contract administration.

Penny Vermie, Senior Contracting Officer, Defense Contract Management Agency and Instructor for University of Washington Professional & Continuing Education

Contract administrators need to be people who can solve problems and build strong working relationships. General business or management studies assist in developing effective interpersonal and communication skills are great routes for education. Additionally, if you haven't received any formal training in contract administration, a certificate program in contract development and management provides the ability to practice those skills and learn from other students.

Mark MitchellMark Mitchell, Instructor for Contract Management Certificate Program at California State University, Sacramento

There are professional certificates that many companies want their CA people to have, such as this program. Some want their CA's to have the Project Management Certificate. Having some knowledge of legal terms, how the bidding process works and some business background would be a major plus.

However, in my mind the most important things would be to have the ability to work with vendors to seek solutions rather than confrontations. Often times, people blame vendors for problems and the CA is the go between, trying to get the company to get what it needs from the Contractor, and the contractor who has a business to run and deal with sometimes unreasonable companies.